Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Nina Shea, Director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. She is the co-author (with Paul Marshall) of the new book, Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide.
FP: Nina Shea, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us what inspired you to write this book with Paul Marshall.
Shea: We have been tracking and opposing the punishment of religious minorities and Muslim reformers in many Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries under apostasy and blasphemy codes for decades. As religious freedom advocates, we saw a horrific and spreading pattern of human rights violations that is being ignored in US foreign policy and in the media – though particularly egregious individual cases have been sporadically reported without much attention to their overall effect. This pattern of human rights violations should especially concern us because the practices and policies it evidences undermine the individual freedoms essential to liberal democracy. Even our national security is compromised since apostasy and blasphemy codes are used by Islamic radicals to crush their opponents and thus pose obstacles to moderation within Islam. So, it undermines a number of critical American interests.
FP: What does Silenced do that no book has done before?
Shea: It does two things: It surveys in descriptive and overwhelming detail the limits coercively imposed in the name of Islam on fundamental freedoms of religion and speech in about twenty key OIC countries. It also links this phenomenon to a new trend in the West. The OIC is waging a campaign to have those same limits enforced by the West within its borders and that campaign is making substantial headway, particularly through self-censorship in establishment organizations and through the adoption of hate speech laws in many countries.
FP: Tell us about the political effects in Muslim societies of blasphemy and apostasy laws.
Shea: One effect is that criticism of anything and anyone claiming Islamic legitimacy is essentially forbidden and, in the more Islamicized societies, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, northern Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, those accused of apostasy and blasphemy sins can be punished by death. Since Islam prescriptions reach into every realm of life—personal dress, social relations, arts and culture, science, politics, etc. – these codes preclude genuine democracy, shut down debate and intellectual inquiry, stifle scientific and economic innovation, and stagnate culture, as the late Indonesian President Wahid wrote in the Foreword to Silenced and as the UN Arab Development Report also documented. Those who propose to abandon such codes, such as an Afghan journalist, an Iranian ayatollah, and a Pakistani governor and a cabinet minister recently did in their respective countries, are brutally crushed. Muslim converts to Christianity and members of religions that come after Mohammed, such as the Bahai’s and Amadiyas, are viewed as de facto insulters of Islam and killed or harshly punished and discriminated against. These apostasy and blasphemy codes should be one of the main concerns posed by an Islamist takeover of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, not the banning of alcohol and movies that our media tends to focus on.
FP: What is happening in terms of the move toward new blasphemy laws in the West – and the trend to stifle truth-telling about Islam in the West?
Shea: Especially since the politically-manipulated Danish cartoon crisis, Western Europe, Canada and Australia have been adopting hate speech laws and expanding existing blasphemy laws and public order offenses that can be used to criminally prosecute virtually anything deemed insulting to Muslims because of their religion. Such laws have been used as proxies for Islamic blasphemy laws. Prosecutors in Finland, the Netherlands and Canada have trawled the websites of anti-immigration advocates looking for evidence that Islam’s Prophet may have been mocked. In France, Canada, Norway, and Italy, publishers, editors and authors have been tried for inciting religious hostility and insulting religious sensibilities with their critiques of Islam. In Austria, a woman was convicted this year for her lecture before an anti-immigration political party in which she quoted some of the more violent passages of the Koran – the judge found she “cast Islam in an extremely negative light.” In German, a man was convicted for the sacrilegious treatment of the word “Koran,” not the text itself. Despite France’s laicite system of strict separation of religion and state, national icon Brigitte Bardot, in her animal rights advocacy, has been convicted and fined five times under hate speech laws denouncing Islamic slaughter practices. In Australia, Christian pastors were convicted by a tribunal that found, among other things, that they failed to quote in their religion classes on Islam the “pro-Islamic” verses of the Koran. Religious hate speech laws are actually mandated by the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights though a provision that was inserted during the Cold War by the former Soviet bloc; though Eleanor Roosevelt, representing the U.S., and other Western delegates at the time strenuously opposed it, it was adopted and now all EU countries are required to have them.
Then, there is the violent reaction by some Muslims who feel insulted by certain Western statements about Islam. Among those threatened with death for urging reforms within Islam have been Muslim Members of Parliament in Germany, Italy, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Even an American woman journalist who had worked for the Wall Street Journal and had urged for the end of gender segregation in some American mosques was threatened with “slaughter.” Others in the West have also seen violent reactions to their speech. When Pope Benedict XVI gave a brief Christian theological critique of Islam to a private academic audience in a German university, a 65-year-old Italian nun was murdered in reprisal. This violence is having a broad chilling effect on free speech about Islam, particularly within establishment organizations such as the press, academia, publishing houses, the entertainment industry and in government. This is true even for the United States, which does not have federal or state hate speech laws. For example, the departments of State and Homeland Security have banned their employees from using certain Muslim words, such as salafi, califate and jihadi, because they are deemed insulting to Muslims when used by non-Muslims.
FP: Crystallize for us the overall case you are making.
Shea: Our political leaders must begin a robust defense of free speech and freedom of religion, and end the attempts to find common ground with and appease the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and its surrogates on these issues, as the Obama administration is trying to do this week in Washington through an international conference it calls “The Islanbul Process.”
FP: Nina Shea, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
We encourage all of our readers to get their hands on Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide.
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